FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享SNL:Returning to protest the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at its first meeting in months, opponents of natural gas pipelines said protests at the agency and a backlash against President Donald Trump helped set the stage for a recent string of victories at the state level and in federal appeals courts.“We are starting to see with Trump as president that there are state regulatory agencies and federal court judges who seem to be now acting a little differently,” said Ted Glick, a leader at Beyond Extreme Energy. “Maybe it is because if Obama is no longer president, they feel more responsibility.” Beyond Extreme Energy would like to lead the country away from gas transportation infrastructure and fossil fuels because of climate and community impacts.“The fact is that state environmental agencies in New York, West Virginia and North Carolina in the last month have all made decisions very much to the displeasure of the pipeline industry,” including extra scrutiny and even denial of Clean Water Act permits issued by the states, Glick said. In a Sept. 20 interview, he also pointed to a Delaware River Basin Commission move toward a ban on hydraulic fracturing and the U.S. Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit’s decision to vacate an approval of the Enbridge Inc.-led Sabal Trail gas pipeline, which sent the matter back to FERC for more analysis of downstream greenhouse gas emissions.“All those things are going against what Trump wants to do” and against FERC, which Beyond Extreme Energy and others believe is thwarting the transition to a clean, efficient energy future by approving pipelines, compressor stations and LNG terminals, Glick said.“I think there is a connection between the protests that have been happening at FERC over the last three years and [protests] that happened at the Senate in relationship to the Trump appointees … and the growth of this movement,” Glick said.Protesters from Beyond Extreme Energy and Delaware Riverkeeper Network interrupted the FERC monthly meeting Sept. 20, singing “We Shall Overcome.” Delaware Riverkeeper leader Maya van Rossum warned of dangers that fossil fuels pose to the climate as she was escorted out of the chamber by security. A display in front of the commission showed the gas industry as a puppeteer with the commissioners on strings.More: ($) Pipeline protesters return to FERC energized by recent wins, Trump backlash Growing Public Blowback Against More U.S. Pipeline Projects
Month: December 2020
FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Casper Star Tribune:Coal company Contura Energy announced Wednesday it had reached a tentative deal with FM Coal to transfer ownership of two idling Wyoming coal mines, the latest development in a bankruptcy case that has rattled coal country for months.The agreement hinges on approval of a federal bankruptcy court and the board of Contura. But if successful, the sale could lead to the reopening of Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines under a new owner. Eagle Specialty Materials, an affiliate of FM Coal, would operate the mines and assume full liability for the thermal coal mines, including reclamation obligations.The pair of coal mines have been idling since July 1 when bankrupt coal operator Blackjewel filed for Chapter 11 and failed to secure necessary funding to keep the mines operational. The shutdown left hundreds of miners out of work.If the sale closes, Contura says it will pay the newcomer to the basin $90 million in cash. It will also pay Campbell County $13.5 million for unpaid ad valorem taxes. In exchange, Eagle Specialty Materials would settle certain outstanding debts to creditors and assume the $237 million in reclamation bonds associated with the mines.To Clark Williams-Derry, director of energy finance at the Sightline Institute, an environmental think tank, the failure of the mines’ bankrupt owner Blackjewel to secure a new owner nearly three months after the mines initial closure signals trouble for the Powder River Basin — a region where a dozen of Wyoming’s mines operate. “Contura is paying $90 million to walk away from a financial mess,” he said. “These two mines have been hot potatoes and you have to sweeten the pot with extra cash payments. This could signal trouble for the Powder River Basin.More: Contura finds new potential owner for idling Wyoming coal mines Contura tries again to offload Powder River Basin coal assets
Swiss company NEK to build 1,000MW of wind capacity in Ghana FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享ESI Africa:Swiss engineering company NEK has announced its plans to generate 1,000MW of electricity from several wind farms in Ghana.The independent power producer believes the implementation of this megaproject will serve as incentive to implement Ghana’s plan to transition its electricity supply to 100% renewables by 2040.Currently, Ghana’s electricity mix is dominated by thermal power generated by large fossil fuel-fired power plants. However, climate change is starting to affect hydropower production because of declining river flows.NEK’s planned project spans several phases. The first phase is expected to generate 160MW and the second, 75MW. The company has already secured several concessions in Ghana, including in the locality of Amlakpo, more than 80km from Ghanaian capital Accra, where they want to build a 200MW wind farm.In Ayitepa in the south-east of Ghana, NEK will develop a 225MW wind farm. Studies to construct this facility started in 1998.The Koluedor Wind Farm project site is located in the Ningo Prampram, around 70 to 75kms east of Accra. This project should provide 160MW of installed power from 48 turbines. The planned Madavunu Wind Farm in the Ada West District will provide up to 200MW installed power from 60 turbines.More: Wind plans for Ghana gaining momentum
FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Casper Star Tribune:Coal giant Arch Resources, Inc. plans to aggressively shrink thermal coal operations in the Powder River Basin, outlining a shift toward coking coal and steel production in an investor call on Thursday.Arch anticipates slashing thermal coal production by another 50% over the next two to three years at its coal mines in the Powder River Basin. The firm went so far as to suggest it would be looking for “an appropriate” buyer for certain assets, and if no buyers are found, significantly scale down production. Arch operates the Black Thunder mine — the second largest mine producing over 10% of the nation’s coal — as well as the Coal Creek mine in Wyoming.“We have launched an accelerated effort to evaluate strategic alternatives for our thermal operations, including possible divestiture,” Paul Lang, Arch’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Simultaneously, we are finalizing plans to shrink the operational footprint at these operations, with a particular emphasis on our Powder River Basin assets, where we are sharply focused on systematically reducing our asset retirement and related mine closure obligations.”“I think there are buyers out there,” Lang added during the investor call. “…If you stand back and look at the basin, there have been some non-traditional players come in, and they come in in various ways. It will be kind of interesting to see how this plays out in the next couple of months.”The company also reported a net loss of $191.5 million in the third quarter and a $163 million non-cash write down of assets at “several of its legacy thermal operations.” Black Thunder coal firm was not included in this impairment, according to the company.But a write down for Black Thunder is likely around the corner, according to Rob Godby, economist at the University of Wyoming and associate dean of the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources. “It has to be. If you’re saying that you’re going to reduce production by 50%, that means that the asset value of that mine has just declined by half, give or take.” Godby continued: “I think what we need to do is pay attention. This company is the second largest company in the basin, operating the second largest mine — a mine that produces 10% of the country’s coal. They are signaling very clearly that they would like to leave this market, and they would like to reduce their production by as much as 50% in the next few years.”Arch’s Powder River Basin mines produced nearly 75 million tons of coal last year. But it forecast significantly lower production levels for 2020. Less than 55 million tons of coal will be mined this year at its mines in the basin, due to an “enormous demand shock,” according to company executives. In comparison, Arch’s Black Thunder mine alone produced over 116 million tons of coal in 2010, according to the Mining, Safety and Health Administration.[Camille Erickson]More: Major Wyoming coal company suffers huge losses, plans to divest from thermal coal Arch to sharply cut PRB coal production, continue shift to met coal
My original thought was for the Appalachian Crossing to be a special, one-time adventure. But after the run, two of the many remarks from runners were: “You can’t do this thing again because it will never go this smoothly” and “I want help crew the next time.” Thus the Appalachian Crossing 2009 was born. There are five runners signed up to date, all ladies! Another guy and I are working on a 165-mile loop in the Cranberry Backcountry and Williams River area. We’ll do this as an unsupported run some day. I’ve also thought about extending the Appalachian Crossing into Virginia and completing the rest of the mountain range. This would require some help from our ultra friends in the Old Dominion. I was intrigued by the notion of a trail route from the west slope of the Appalachians east across the mountains to the Virginia state line on top of Shenandoah Mountain. I have always loved maps and the idea of “finding your way” physically and metaphorically. I thought that a few other runners might also enjoy the adventure of a long run with limited aid and overnight camping. Dan LehmannWhat made you decide to run across the mountains of West virginia? Dan Lehmann, a 58-year old veteran ultra runner and president of the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners, was the mastermind behind the 2007 Appalachian Crossing, a 120-mile, four-day adventure run across the rugged mountains dividing West Virginia and Virginia. Lehmann and his cohorts liked the run so much, he’s planning a repeat for August 2009. Why run the Appalachian Crossing again? Last August I was accompanying Bradley Mongold on part of his 300-mile Allegheny Trail run. That time of year bear hunters train their dogs for the upcoming fall season. The boys and their dogs had been about the woods all day and apparently treed a few bears. Around sunset, as we ran along a fine trail in dense rhododendron and hardwoods, we heard a scrambling in the trees above. That bear came 40 feet down that tree right next to us and was gone before we knew what happened. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen while running trails? Any other mountain ranges you’d like to run across?
Asheville sucks, don’t go there.Your outdoor news bulletin for April 9, the day General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox in 1865:Fatal Fall at Crabtree FallsAn 18-year-old Liberty College student fell to her death at Crabtree Falls Monday evening, another fatality to add to the list of at least 28 people who have died at the falls in the last several years. Nelson County Sheriff’s Office Investigators say Faith Helbig was hiking with a group of fellow students when she wandered off the trail and fell off the top of the falls around 5:30pm, calling it a “tragic hiking accident.” With no cell phone service in the area, some of the group had to hike out before calling the rescue team who were able to extract the Helbig’s body late Monday night. Signage around the falls, touted as the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi, is prominent and warns against getting too close and leaving the trail. This one hits home as Crabtree is one of the more popular hikes around our home in Charlottesville. please be careful out there during hiking season.Asheville Not That Great, ApparentlyThis one also hits close to home…our second home in the mountains. According to David Landsel, a contributing editor at airfarewatchdog.org and the Huffington Post, Asheville, N.C. is one of the world’s most overrated destinations. Not just the nation, mind you, all of the Earth. Also making the list were Berlin, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, and Austin, TX in the top spot. Landsel claims that the people of Asheville “seem really annoyed by everything” and calls the “physically and emotionally fragmented mountain town” a “Hamptons with no beach.” As an alternative, he recommends going to Mt. Mitchell, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, all conveniently around Asheville. Um, what?Appalachian Trail Visitor Center RedesignJust in time for the thru-hikers passing through the state, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy‘s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office will unveil its redesigned building in Bolling Spring, Penn. on Friday. Included in the upgrades is a series of new informational panels of an overview of the trail, its history, and the history of the conservancy and was made possible by a grant from the Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau. The A.T. passes right through the middle of Bolling Springs and practically past the front door of the visitor center, so this will be a great improvement for hikers and visitors alike. Last year the center saw over 4,500 visitors.
Join powder hounds throughout the Southeast in unveiling the premier of Pretty Faces, a film conceived by professional big mountain skier and SheJumps co-founder, Lynsey Dyer. The objective of the film is to give women and girls, young and old, a source of inspiration through a unique look at what is possible when boundaries are broken, dreams are captured, and friendships are cultivated.Dyer says of the film that she, “…wanted to give young girls something positive to look up to…[and] to give them their Blizzard of Ahhs, Ski Movie or High Life, but done in a way that also shows the elegance, grace, community, and style that is unique to women in the mountains.”The film will be shown tomorrow, January 8, 2015, at The Millroom. Doors open at 6 PM and the screening starts at 7 PM. The film premiere is also fundraising money to benefit SheJumps and Girls on the Run of Western North Carolina by offering a raffle with prizes donated from Asheville Brewery Tours, Asheville Adventure Rentals, Lululemon, ENO, Astral, Cataloochee Ski Area, and many more.You can buy your tickets in advance here. Stay up-to-date on film showing happenings by joining the event’s Facebook page.Can’t decide if you want to see the flick? Check out the trailer below!You go girls!
What You Can DoThe above list of threats may seem insurmountable, but you can do a lot to respond to these challenges. Plenty of organizations aid the parks, and individual efforts can really add up.First and foremost, “COME to the parks!” urges Hurlbert. In the Smokies, Soehn concurs. “We’re trying to develop users to be supporters and advocates,” she says. “We want people to know us better and see a connection to the Smokies, and we want to engage people in the full system of public lands.”When you visit, make an effort to reduce your footprint and impact. You can help limit the spread of invasive species by cleaning footwear, clothing, and recreational gear between visits to different areas. Familiarize yourself with Leave No Trace principles (lnt.org), and take the “take only pictures, leave only footprints” motto to heart. Pack out any trash you pack in, stay on trails, and be respectful of other humans and wildlife also enjoying the parks. Also, respect rules like firewood restrictions, which are measures put in place to ensure your continued enjoyment of the parks for years to come.If you enjoy giving back of your time and talents, consider volunteering. “We have lots of weeds to pull!” says Hurlbert. The Volunteers-in-Parks program connects roughly 221,000 Americans each year with critical park programs where they can help. Volunteers contribute as trail maintenance crews, invasive species surveyors, visitor center assistants, campground hosts and more. Best of all, volunteers who record 250 hours of service can earn a free pass to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites.If you want to support the parks from the comfort of your home, consider writing to your congressional representatives to stress your support as a constituent for the parks. Often, public lands needs get lost in the mix of all the other concerns elected officials have to weigh, so voter feedback and advocacy help them prioritize.“We need to help decision-makers understand how valuable and important these parks are to all,” says Fran Mainella, director of the National Park Service from 2001 to 2006. Funding is always an issue as we never have enough dollars to do all that is needed, but the relevancy issue is most important. Only if our parks are meaningful and relevant to all will that support happen.”Financially, you can support the parks by joining or donating to affiliated nonprofit groups like the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Shenandoah National Park Trust, Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains, and other organizations that aid the protection and preservation of the parks by raising funds and public awareness and providing volunteers. As Congressional funding for national parks has decreased, these public-private partnerships have become essential.You can also contribute financially to the parks by ordering a park license plate, which showcases your park support to other drivers and collectively raises millions for park initiatives in each state. Additionally, patronizing private businesses that help pay for park programs and operations trickles down to park improvements.Perhaps the most important thing you can do to support the parks is to bring your kids to experience them. It seems simple, but fun weekend trips spent wading through rivers and camping in the woods are the best way to help instill an early conservation ethic and appreciation for nature in the next generation of park stewards. Think back to the experiences that got you hooked on nature, and open up those opportunities for your children, nieces and nephews, students and more. More than anything else, this will help ensure public lands remain relevant and important assets for years to come.A Bright FutureDespite the challenges, there’s plenty of hope for the National Park Service’s second 100 years and beyond. As more and more people engage with the parks and learn how to support them, we create more and more public land stewards for the future who will preserve the legacy we’ll leave. On a regional scale, even small efforts can ensure habitat conditions in which plants and animals will thrive.And for two weeks each summer at a campground in the Smokies, our thoughtful care can help preserve the quiet magic of a forest full of fireflies, together flashing in a united effort to continue inspiring us for many generations to come. A little bit of magic happens each summer in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In a handful of wooded areas in and around the park, one species of firefly puts on a fascinating show of synchronous flashing, with all of the male Photinus carolinus lightning bugs blinking on and off in unison. The mesmerizing phenomenon lasts each warm evening for maybe two weeks, then fades away until the following summer.Unsurprisingly, the spectacle has attracted a lot of public attention, and what was once a little-known secret has become a major event for which thousands show up each year to witness the display. However, the magic may be threatened by the very people who come to revel in the fireflies’ glory. With the park’s largest and most consistent display happening in the popular Elkmont Campground, park officials have taken measures to reduce visitor impact on these unique creatures. They’ve restricted auto transport to the area and implemented a ticketed shuttle service that limits the number of visitors each night. They require all flashlights to be covered with red or blue cellophane so visitors don’t disrupt the fireflies’ flash patterns. They also stress the importance of staying on trails to minimize foot traffic across the ground from which the insects emerge.However, says Dana Soehn, public affairs representative for the park, “People want to go out in the middle of it all and surround themselves in the experience. They may not realize they might step on the fireflies and kill them before they have the chance to mate,” threatening the rare insect’s survival.In the grand scheme of things, the continued existence of one species of firefly is hardly the National Park Service’s biggest priority, but this example is just one of many that show the challenges park staff face every day in their stewardship of America’s public lands. Extrapolate this to the more than 84 million acres under the NPS umbrella managed by just 22,000 employees (many of whom are temporary or seasonal) and factor in additional threats like climate change, unavoidably deferred maintenance, rampant invasive species and more, and it’s a wonder America’s Best Idea has survived as long as it has.Looking BackOn August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Organic Act, creating the National Park Service as a new bureau under the Department of the Interior. This year, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service’s creation and reflect on how far America has come in the protection and advancement of public lands. Furthermore, we recognize the precedent set for the rest of the world. Yellowstone, established nearly 50 years before the National Park Service in 1872, was the world’s very first national park. Now, more than 100 nations oversee roughly 1,200 national parks or their equivalent. The 1916 act that created the U.S. park service initially protected 35 national parks and monuments. Today, our national parks system manages 410 sites in all 50 states and the District of Columbia as well as American territories around the world. Last year, 305 million visitors came to national parks in the United States.But at this pivotal moment, while looking back at the accomplishments that got us here, the park service also looks ahead at the challenges of the future. So should we as the Americans who have collectively inherited this incredible backyard of shared riches.Threats encroach on the parks from every angle, from climate change physically affecting the landscape of the parks to disease-carrying animals lurking just outside the borders to political shifts of the wind that deprioritize public lands come budget time. However, as voters, consumers, business people and users of the parks, we have significant power to make positive change for the next 100 years and beyond.Combating Climate ChangeAccording to the National Park Service web site, “Responding to climate change is the greatest challenge facing the National Park Service today.” Nowhere is this more evident than in Glacier National Park in northern Montana. In 1850, the park’s current area contained approximately 150 glaciers. Today, only 25 shrunken glaciers remain, and scientists predict the park’s last glaciers in the park will be gone in less than 15 years due to increased atmospheric warming. Climate change has also caused long-standing park facilities in Alaska to sink due to thawing permafrost, and increased temperatures out west have caused recent wildfire seasons to last longer than ever before. Furthermore, sea level rise due to melting polar ice and thermal expansion threatens the very existence of many low-lying coastal national park sites, such as Assateague Island National Seashore. The list goes on.Last April, President Barack Obama visited Everglades National Park in Florida and spoke on the issue of global warming. “Here in the Everglades, you can see the effect of a changing climate. As sea levels rise, salty water from the ocean flows inward. And this harms freshwater wildlife, which endangers a fragile ecosystem. The saltwater flows into aquifers, which threatens the drinking water of more than 7 million Floridians … In places like this…you do not have time to deny the effects of climate change.”In Shenandoah National Park, park officials confirm climate change poses the biggest ongoing threat to the park. Researchers have documented continued increases in stream temperatures, and they’ve witnessed habitat shifts of animal species that are particularly sensitive to surrounding conditions.Sally Hurlbert, an interpretive park ranger and acting management assistant at Shenandoah, notes that park salamanders serve as indicator species for climate change. Data indicates that the endangered Shenandoah salamander, which only lives inside the borders of the park at elevations of 2,500 feet or higher, is retreating to the highest mountain peaks in search of cooler climes that support their specific habitat needs.“Eventually,” Hurlbert says, “they’ll run out of places to go and won’t be able to survive the changing conditions.” The potential loss of this one animal would by itself have a ripple effect on the Shenandoah ecosystem, but it would only be a precursor to many more negative changes to come.Increased warming also poses significant problems for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which gets most of its vital 55 to 85 inches of rain each year in the form of a fine mist. As temperatures rise, more of this mist will evaporate before reaching the ground, significantly reducing critical moisture levels throughout the park that sustain plant and animal life. Diminished rainfall throughout the Smokies also threatens the water supply source for much of North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. Furthermore, increased temperatures and reduced streamflows endanger the survival of many fish species in the area, which provide vital food sources for many animals through the park.Threats to PlantsClimate change likely also contributes to a biological threat within the park. Hemlock wooly adelgids, which have killed 95 percent of Shenandoah’s hemlock trees since 1988, can’t tolerate deep freezes, but the park’s recent series of mild winters have allowed more insects to survive. A 2009 study by the U.S. Forest Service found that the accelerated pace with which hemlock wooly adelgids kill trees in southern Appalachia rapidly alters the carbon cycles of the damaged forests and drastically reduces their critical ability to absorb atmospheric carbon.The hemlock wooly adelgid and its cousin, the balsam wooly adelgid, posed the largest insect threats to Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks in the 20th century and continue to kill trees. But today, the ruinous emerald ash borer looms as one of the scariest threats. Shenandoah biologists just confirmed its presence in 2013 after several years of efforts to prevent its arrival, but so far, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has largely kept the insect at bay. Last year, Smokies officials implemented a strict ban on any incoming firewood that hadn’t been heat-treated to kill any burrowing insects. Unfortunately, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has fallen victim to the highly destructive Asian longhorn beetle, which infests more than 30 host tree species.In addition to insect species endangering plants, non-native plant species have also disrupted the natural ecosystem and displaced native species that now have to fight for survival. In Shenandoah, wavyleaf basketgrass, ornamental stiltgrass, and mile-a-minute weed choke out other native ground-level plants, and oriental bittersweet vines strangle to death the host trees they climb. Fast-growing princess trees and trees of heaven also inhibit the growth of other plants. In the Smokies, roughly 300 of the park’s 1500 flowering species aren’t native to the area. Here, kudzu, princess trees, mimosas, and garlic mustard edge out native species.“The threats we’re faced with now, you can’t avoid them just by drawing a park boundary on the map,” says Soehn. “These invasive species are windblown, they’re animal-carried, they come in on firewood.” Hurlbert adds that even long-distance hikers on the Appalachian Trail may unintentionally transport seeds that stick to their clothes and packs, spreading destructive species up and down the Appalachian corridor.Threats to AnimalsIn the Smokies, feral hogs create the most destruction as they root through vulnerable landscapes and eat just about everything they come across, including a number of endangered species like the Jordan’s salamander. Rainbow and brown trout in both the Smokies and Shenandoah National Park threaten native brook trout. These fish and swine alike were introduced in the early 1900s as game for sportsmen, but they’ve overrun their habitats.Acid rain, caused by air pollution from coal-fired power plants to the west, strongly alters the pH levels in the rivers and soils of both parks, threatening salamanders, fish, and other vulnerable species. During part of the growing season in the Smokies, clouds enveloping high-elevation forests have pH levels as low as 2.0, the same acidity level as lemon juice. Acidified streams influence fish diversity, killing less-hardy species and harming those that can survive.Furthermore, diseases affecting animals in and around the parks, such as the white-nose fungus now plaguing bats in the eastern U.S., have caused mass die-offs and complicated recreational access in certain areas, creating a new set of problems for park officials. White-nose syndrome, first discovered in New York during the winter of 2006-2007, has now spread to nearly all eastern U.S. states and Canadian provinces. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates roughly six million bats have died so far, and some caves have experienced mortality rates of 100 percent. Humans can inadvertently carry the disease from one cave to another or disrupt roosting infected bats with their presence, causing the bats to flee to other caves and worsen the spread. In response, many eastern caves and mines, including caves in Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Cades Cove area and mines in the park’s White Oaks Valley, have been permanently closed for recreation.Near Shenandoah, chronic wasting disease has been observed in deer within 10 miles of the park. This neurological condition greatly resembles mad-cow disease and causes starvation and altered behavior in deer, ultimately hastening their death. It spreads through contact, making high-density deer areas like Big Meadows especially susceptible to transmission once infected deer arrive there. If they are detected within five miles of the park, officials may be forced to enact a lethal culling to protect animals within the park’s boundaries.Funding ChallengesIn addition to forces threatening the parks’ natural landscape, budgetary restrictions limit park employees’ abilities to properly manage the natural resources and park facilities for which they are held responsible. The NPS inventory totals more than 70,000 individual facility assets such as visitor centers, bridges and trails, and virtually every park has projects that have been delayed due to lack of funding. In early February, the agency reported a FY 2015 deferred maintenance backlog of $11.93 billion.Leesa Brandon, public information officer for the Blue Ridge Parkway, cites deferred maintenance as the parkway’s most significant problem, and for good reason—2015 statistics calculate more than $516.6 million in deferred maintenance for this single park unit, more than four percent of the systemwide total. With nearly 3,000 asset locations ranging from trails to wastewater systems along the 469-mile route, there’s a lot to maintain, especially considering that many original structures have been in place for more than 80 years.In addition to fixing potholes, replacing crumbling picnic tables and making building repairs, park staff work with arborists to address view obstructions and clear trees blocking the beautiful vistas so critical to the parkway experience.To complicate matters for parks nationwide, funding systems already in place have been endangered by political gridlock. Last year, Congress allowed the 50-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to expire for the first time in its history, jeopardizing the thousands of outdoor recreation projects that depend on it for financial support. This program, which enjoys wide bipartisan approval, is funded by offshore oil and gas drilling revenues, not taxpayer dollars, and it has been used to protect more than 2.2 million acres of National Park Service land since 1965.Fortunately, Congress temporarily reauthorized LWCF last December, protecting it for three more years. But even with that victory, the program still suffers from chronic underfunding. Only twice in 50 years has Congress fully funded LWCF at its promised level, and in recent years, the program has only received about one-third of the funding Congress said it would allocate.Direct Human ImpactsWhile balancing all of the complications listed above, park staff must also deal with the challenges of increased visitation. With a record 305 million visitors in 2015 and more expected for this Centennial year, this is a good trend for public engagement and education in the parks, but it’s nevertheless one that comes with stresses of its own related to properly managing the resulting human impacts.One of the National Park Service’s top goals is to help connect visitors to the natural environment, which sometimes involves making tough decisions. The Smokies’ firefly showcases a regular dilemma park employees have to weigh. Do they take advantage of an exciting natural occurrence to help engage visitors with the wonders of the park at the possible expense of future generations being able to enjoy the phenomenon as well, or do they cordon off the area and protect the fireflies by removing as much human interference as possible? Questions like this go to the heart of the preservation vs. conservation debate, and the right answers aren’t always easy to determine.“The park service is trying to get the next generation and a more diverse group of people interested in the park, so increased visitation is great, but it’s hard to reach everyone to share the value of the park,” says Maggie Blake, an interpretive ranger in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Furthermore, the low staff-to-visitor ratio makes it difficult to ensure park visitors get vital information. “People don’t realize they’re bringing in invasives, like in infested firewood,” says Blake, “and they might not understand the effects of things like littering and going off-trail.”In Shenandoah, human impacts on the popular Old Rag trail have made park officials consider restricting access.“Lots of people just aren’t being good stewards on Old Rag,” says Hurlbert. “Some hikers leave trash and trample plants. We’ve considered limiting people on the trail via a permitting system in an effort to preserve and protect the environment.” She notes that the park has had to close off other areas to protect some rare species on rock outcrops, and while the decision to ban humans from enjoying part of their park wasn’t ideal, the results are undeniable—plant species protected by this measure have bounced back. Limiting access on Old Rag may be the best way to preserve the trail for a long future.
When she handed my husband Nelson the two cold beers, plus six fresh eggs from her chickens and a small bundle of firewood, I almost fell to my knees and wept. It was such a small gesture, but it came straight from her heart to ours at exactly the time we needed it.We had pulled up to the shore of our campground for the night, unsure which site was ours. Glenda, co-owner of the French Broad River Campground, just happened to stop by.“I want to support what you guys are doing,” Glenda said as she unknowingly participated in what we’d started calling “river magic.” Over and over on our end-to-end French Broad River paddling trip, we encountered “river magic” from people who gave to us selflessly.This whole trip idea started last year when Nelson stopped in at The Hub’s Pisgah Tavern near Brevard for an after-work beer, and a colorful, slim, spiral-bound map caught his eye: The Riverkeeper’s Guide to the French Broad River. Curiosity piqued, he bought it. When he came home, he grinned, handed it to me, and said, “I think we could do this.”By day four, Nelson half-jokingly said, “I need a vacation from our vacation.” I wrote in my journal: “I’m tired of hauling gear up the banks or stairs to and from our boat and campsite. Gear is heavy and bulky, and I am weak and puny. Our kitchen box is so heavy. I shall name the kitchen box Bertha.”As the idea began to take shape, Nelson laid out river miles and chose campsites. I began planning menus. We launched from Headwaters Outfitters’ sandy beach in Rosman, North Carolina, where the North and West Forks of the French Broad River come together to form this beautiful river.In the first few days, the river repeatedly wound back on itself in dramatic horseshoe turns. We passed folks in canoes and kayaks who asked us lots of questions: How long would the trip take us? Did we know about the dams? What about the whitewater? Where would we sleep? Did we really have enough food?Somewhere around mile 20, we took a break at a local park and started chatting with one of the kayakers there. As we explained our journey, one of the guys exclaimed, “You deserve some beer!”At mile 31 we stopped so Nelson could walk up to a nearby store to grab some extra ice for the cooler. Black clouds were rapidly gathering overhead and that first crack of thunder got our attention. When it started raining in sheets, we pulled over, set up our umbrella and hunkered down until the worst of the storm passed. Four hours and seven river miles later, we set up camp in the steamy late-afternoon sunshine.Most of our days were filled with downed trees, menacing thunderstorms, many rocks, various animal sightings, and long, long stretches of flatwater. By day four, Nelson half-jokingly said, “I need a vacation from our vacation.” I wrote in my journal: “I’m tired of hauling gear up the banks or stairs to and from our boat and campsite. Gear is heavy and bulky, and I am weak and puny. Our kitchen box is so heavy. I shall name the kitchen box Bertha.”One piece of this adventure we had not yet planned out was how we were going to get around the two dams in Marshall. Fortunately, we met “Davewave” at the Asheville Outdooor Center, who offered to provide a shuttle ride. True to his word, he showed up with his truck and trailer to portage us safely two miles downstream.We ran Section 9, the most technical whitewater stretch of the French Broad River, with the help of other rafts on the river. As we were approaching Frank Bell’s Rapid, we spotted a pair of bald eagles high up in the trees. They flew off one at a time as we got close. Then, on our final night in camp, a barred owl flew by so close to our tent we could hear its wings cut through the air and ruffle the rain fly of our tent. River magic, compliments of Mother Nature.Our 17-mile paddle on the last day was much easier than anticipated, and we floated into the finish at Douglas Lake. This accomplishment was special, earned through teamwork, hard work, and a good bit of something else: all that river magic. Our grins were as wide as the lake we found ourselves on.
Aside from the tattered hem on his shirt and the quintessential hiker beard, you might never suspect that Andrew “Crash” Sherry has spent the better part of the past 18 months hiking.Originally from just outside of Melbourne, Australia, Crash is 29 and an engineer by trade. After thru-hiking the PCT in 99 days, Crash moved to London where he worked as a contractor for the local government. Then Brexit happened. The government laid off its contract employees, including Crash.He took to the mountains to wait out the turmoil. That summer of 2016, he hiked over 1,000 miles through the Alps of Switzerland, Italy, and France. During the winter that same year, he traversed some 380 miles of the Scottish Highlands, during which time he only saw the sun twice.Somewhere in between the glaciers of Switzerland and the knife-edge ridgelines of Scotland, Crash resolved to keep hiking so far as his savings could support him. Over the course of the past 10 months, he’s thru-hiked the PCT, the Wonderland Trail, the Sierra High Route, the Hayduke Trail, and the Arizona Trail. He’s now attempting the Triple Crown in a year, starting with a winter thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.I caught up with him outside of Damascus, Va., just three weeks into his hike to see how he was faring in the record cold temperatures (and to deliver some much-needed gloves).Discovering The Triple CrownProbably a decade ago, I literally stumbled upon the Triple Crown Wikipedia page and I was like, what dumbasses would do this? Now I’m doing it.My First PCT Thru-hikeThere was definitely a learning curve. I was a good walker, but not a good hiker. I remember there was a 40-odd-mile waterless stretch, and I was hiking with the minimum amount of water. I ended up hiding out in a cave all day to not sweat. I learned a helluva lot. One of the biggest things was just learning to do it day after day after day. When I finished the PCT, I didn’t think I would ever do another thru-hike again. I was so tired.Toughest MomentFive people died on the PCT last year. It went from being one of the highest snow years to being 110 degrees in the valley. The heat wave coincided with peak snowmelt, and there are three rivers that you have to ford. I had to walk upriver from about 6,000 feet in elevation to over 10,000 feet to find places to pass. It took me 12 hours to do six trail miles that day. I didn’t have enough food. So I turned around, which was the hardest decision of my life. I knew it was the right decision, because there were three bigger rivers coming up which I didn’t want to get trapped between. I took about two weeks off, and when I went back, it wasn’t a problem at all to cross the rivers. But then in Oregon, fires erupted everywhere. I was in constant smoke.The Hardest Hiking Of My LifeThe Hayduke Trail (an 812-mile trail in southern Utah and northern Arizona) is off-route scrambling down into canyons and up and out of gullies. Water is scarce. But it’s so beautiful. It could go from a fairly boring dirt road to these huge canyons with some of the best sandstone walls I’ve ever seen in my life. Then the next minute I’d be along the Escalante River pushing through brush so thick it would slow me to a half-mile an hour. I would walk in the river and wade through it until my feet got too numb, then back in the brush till my feet warmed up.The A.T. in winterI started within a week of Christmas, just after a massive storm dropped off 10-12 inches, so there was a fair amount of snow and ice up on Springer Mountain. In the first three weeks I’ve gone through three storms, including one of the coldest arctic fronts the country has had in a long time.Christmas presentI was on Clingmans Dome in the Smokies on Christmas Day. It was -10 degrees. I had a frozen beard. An inch of snow had fallen the night before, all of the water sources had frozen up, but it was like a little magic wonderland that I had to myself. I didn’t see anyone up there that day. I couldn’t have asked for anything better really.The worst is yet to comeKnowing that more cold and snow await farther north, I got downtrodden for a couple of days mentally. I can’t snowshoe for 1,200 miles. That’s just unfeasible for me at least. I started questioning why I was out here, until I just realized like, who cares? Just hike a day at a time and if you’re not enjoying it, get off. So yeah, I’ve started enjoying it more since then.Go pro?Would I hike professionally if the opportunity presented itself? Bloody oath I would! I could not think of anything better than being reimbursed financially for following my passion.